Samal Island, more formally known as the “Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS)” is just a 5-10 minute boat ride from Davao City, across a channel that can be crossed by trained swimmers at its narrowest point, but it’s like going to an entirely different world. On one side of the channel is a city that seems abuzz with activity day and night, but just across it is an island where time seems to slow down to a trickle.
Most city-dwellers from Davao know Samal as a quick weekend getaway, with its multitude of beach resorts along the coast facing the big city, but few go further inland and see the rest of the island.
I’ve been quite familiar with Samal since my early childhood in the 1980’s. My father grew up there, and every once in a while we would visit my grandparents who still lived there back then. Being there felt like going through a time warp, bringing us back to what the Philippines was in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Except for the noisy tricycles and electrical power in some houses, there was little to remind us of modern times. All houses still had the old Spanish-era architecture, mostly made of wood, and people still cooked with firewood. The only way to get to the island was through small motor launches that carried everything from rice and market produce to motorcycles, but there were no such things as cars there.
Nowadays, in spite of the multiple resorts that line the coast facing Davao, and in spite of the island now being called a “city” in its own right, Samal is a still very sleepy and laid-back town, but there are noticeable changes. The island used to exclusively have dirt roads, but now a concrete highway already connects the major villages. There is now also a regular ferry service across the channel, bringing vehicles as big us 6-wheeler trucks from the city to the island in less than 10 minutes, and along with the ferry came a regular bus service to an from the city. For once, daily commute to and from the big city is now possible, and the island’s residents can now work in the city by day, and go home to the island at night. All this brought more commercial activity to the island. Now they have a large grocery store, ATM machines, and even a Mang Inasal. Quite a change for a very sleepy place.
Even with all the developments and the much enhanced connection to Davao City though (physically and figuratively), much of Samal remains “uncharted territory”, even to many Davao residents. Apart from the resorts on the coast, and the major villages such as Babak and Penaplata, the rest of Samal is still largely a wilderness (or an endless expanse of coconut trees), but it does hold some surprises.
At the far end of the existing highway is the seaside village of Kaputian. “Puti” means “white” in almost every Filipino dialect, the village does have “whiteness” to boast of. Its beach front is not as wide, but it’s got “baby-powder-fine” white sand that would rival that of Boracay’s station 1. The place, close to the southern tip of the island, is largely undeveloped and unspoiled, and it looked pretty much the same as how remember it that last time I was there, more than 10 years ago. If there is such a thing as a hidden paradise, this is it.
* All photos taken last January 2012, with Panasonic Lumix LX5.